In the directive column on your dressage scoresheet, you’ll see the phrase “crossing of legs” alongside some lateral exercises, namely leg-yield and trot half-pass.
If the judge underlines that phrase, you’ll need to know what that means so that you can take steps to improve your work and boost your marks.
In this article, we explain the meaning of “crossing of legs” and how you can increase it.
“Crossing of Legs”
The phrase “crossing of legs” only applies to lateral movements and essentially refers to the horse’s suppleness both longitudinally and laterally.
When moving sideways in trot, the horse should move with elasticity and fluency, gliding smoothly across the arena with his inside legs crossing over his outside legs as he steps more underneath himself.
If the horse is not supple, through, and connected, the degree of the crossing will be minimal and may not happen at all.
What the Dressage Judge Wants to See
When judging leg-yield and trot half-pass, the judge hopes to see a correctly positioned, fluent exercise.
The horse should swing through his back into the contact with no signs of tension or resistance, stepping willingly sideways without losing rhythm or balance. The inside legs should pass and cross the outside legs as the horse moves sideways with plenty of impulsion, covering the ground as he does so.
If all those qualities are on show, the judge will award a high mark.
What is Longitudinal Suppleness?
Longitudinal suppleness refers to the looseness and roundness of the horse’s back.
When the horse is totally free from tension, his back muscles will swing, and he will be “through.” You will also notice the word “throughness” in the directive column, and that refers to longitudinal suppleness.
What is Lateral Suppleness?
Lateral suppleness refers to the horse’s side-to-side suppleness, ability to bend uniformly through his neck and body, and the degree of crossing that he shows when performing lateral movements.
Throughness is directly related to suppleness. Essentially, if the horse is not supple, he cannot be “through.”
Throughness refers to the horse’s willingness to accept the rider’s aids without any resistance or tension. The energy created by the rider’s legs should come from the horse’s hindquarters, through a loose, supple, and swinging back into an elastic, accepting contact with the rider’s hand.
When the horse is “through,” he can physically demonstrate good crossing of the legs when performing leg-yield and trot half-pass.
In leg-yield, the horse should be positioned parallel to the fence with a slight flexion away from his direction of movement. The rider makes the horse straight and then asks him to move sideways away from her inside leg while moving forward and covering the ground. The horse’s inside front, and hind legs pass and cross in front of his outside legs.
In dressage tests, leg-yield is always ridden in trot. The more supple the horse, the more sideways ground cover he will show, swinging through his back and athletically crossing his legs with big, elastic strides.
Problems in the leg-yield
In horses that aren’t supple, the degree of the crossing will be minimal because the horse’s back is tight and locked, and he cannot physically swing through and step under with his inside hind leg.
The horse’s quarters will most likely trail, and he will lose impulsion, often losing the positioning altogether.
Only when both those elements of the training are established can you enjoy that glorious, sweeping ground cover that will earn you the highest marks for the exercise.
In half-pass, the horse is flexed and bent around the rider’s inside leg in the direction of travel. The horse’s body should be parallel to the fence with his forehand slightly in advance of his hindquarters and his outside hind and forelegs crossing over his inside legs.
In dressage tests, the half-pass is ridden in both trot and canter. However, the crossing of the legs only refers to the trot half-pass. Although the horse covers the maximum ground during the canter half-pass, his legs do not cross over because of the canter gait sequence.
Problems in the trot half-pass
Most problems with half-pass come from a lack of suppleness. If the horse is stiff laterally and tight through his back, he will be unable to maintain the positioning and engagement required for the movement. In many cases, the horse’s quarters will trail, he won’t show sufficient uniform bend, and the crossing of legs will be minimal or barely there at all!
So, to fix the problem you must work to make your horse supple and through, and then learn how to position your horse correctly for half-pass.
When a horse is supple through his back and laterally, he will be connected and “through.” Once you’ve achieved that, the crossing of the horse’s legs in leg-yield and half-pass will happen naturally, provided that you position the horse correctly, too.
Teaching your horse lateral work is challenging, but it’s enormous fun, too. If you have any comments or questions on how to improve your horse’s lateral work, share with us in the comments box below.